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  • Wobblies! A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World
  • Aaron Goings
Wobblies! A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World. Edited by Paul Buhle and Nicole Schulman . London and New York: Verso, 2005. 305 pp. $25 paper.

In 2005, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) celebrated its one-hundred-year anniversary. Coinciding with the centennial celebration was the release of Wobblies! A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World, a fascinating, vividly illustrated book by one of America's top historians and a host of well-known radical artists. Edited by Paul Buhle and Nicole Schulman, Wobblies! provides a comprehensive overview of the union's history, short biographies of prominent union members, and a wide variety of graphic depictions of significant union activities. [End Page 85]

Present here are the stories of American labor's greatest heroes: Mother Jones, "Big" Bill Haywood, and Eugene Debs. But Wobblies! does not stop with a biographical sampling of the union's elite. Instead, Buhle and Schulman successfully recreate the lives of the rank-and-file workers who were drawn to the union both for its radical anti-capitalism and its ability to unite a diverse array of workers within effective industrial unions. Like many traditional accounts of the union, this book follows the IWW in its early struggles in the mines of the West, through its members' courageous activism in countless free speech fights and strikes, to the brutal public and private repression that followed the union wherever it went. But, unlike most previous scholarship, Buhle and Schulman continue their narrative throughout the twentieth century, paying special attention to the revitalization of the Wobblies within the New Left of the 1960s, and the union's continued leadership in countless modern social justice movements.

Wobblies! is especially successful in its contributors' ability to link the vast experiences of the IWW's century of struggle into a collective expression of the union's original radicalism. A good example of the book's methodology comes in the earliest pages, where readers are treated to a thorough look at the 1905 founding convention of the IWW, or as "Big" Bill Haywood called it, "The Continental Congress of the Working Class." The true brilliance of this scene comes in the attention paid to the convention's audience members, who are seen as active participants, discussing the union's incipient possibilities and waiting with bated breath for their chance to be "a part of history." Throughout the book, Buhle and Schulman follow a similar path, guiding readers through the dialectical process by which workers made the IWW and its constitutive struggles.

Perhaps the greatest strength of Wobblies! is its tremendous accessibility. Piercing that invisible line between academia and the mainstream, this book brings the history of the Wobblies to a general audience, and that is precisely its authors' main objective. For now, finally, a century after the radical union's founding, Buhle and Schulman have blended simple prose with stunning visual art to return the IWW its rightful place at the center of radical history.

Wobblies! is a creative, fun, and intellectually engaging portrayal of one of the great people's movements in world history. It accurately depicts the Wobblies as revolutionary workers who united across the traditionally divisive lines of race, gender, and occupation to "dump the bosses off their backs." That it succeeds so remarkably is testament to the scholarly and artistic abilities of the book's multiple contributors. That the IWW message still carries as much weight as it did in 1905 is testament to the all the work left to be [End Page 86] done. This book is a must read for anyone involved in working-class studies, as well as those seeking a historic blueprint for societal change.

Aaron Goings
Simon Fraser University


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 85-87
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2007
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